Shelley McNamara

We are constantly challenging norms and accepted conventions.

Louisiana Channel

Living in “terrifying times” with various crises, Shelley McNamara here explains what she describes as the geography of hope:
“Some people might say we architects are naïve. But we are great believers in human invention. We are great believers in the capacity of architecture to change things. We teach. We see young people researching on how to make buildings in different ways and how to think in different ways about landscape, about the resources, about water, about solar energy. I mean, there are all kinds of amazing things happening.”

“You have to challenge our thinking as architects. But I suppose it is also important to have a sense of belief and optimism. In a way, you can’t be an architect without being optimistic. You are making something that is going to happen tomorrow. It is not there today, so you are thinking about the future… It’s about humanism in the end.”

Shelley McNamara (b. 1952) is an Irish architect and academic. She attended University College Dublin and graduated in 1974 with a Bachelor of Architecture. Together with Yvonne Farrell, she founded Grafton Architects in 1978. Both of them have been teaching architecture at University College Dublin since 1976, as well as at several other universities. Their international academic roles have included: Visiting Professors at EPFL Lausanne, the Kenzo Tange Chair at GSD Harvard, the Louis Kahn Chair at Yale, and Visiting Professors at the Accademia di Architettura, Mendrisio, Switzerland. They are Fellows of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI), International Honorary Fellows of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and elected members of Aosdána, the eminent Irish art organisation.

Grafton Architects is an international architecture studio based in Dublin, Ireland. From this base, the practice has completed many significant and prestigious buildings in Ireland and internationally. With projects spanning from Milford to Milan and from Lima to London. Grafton Architects embeds each project within its unique context.

In 2020, the practice directors Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara received the Pritzker Prize, considered the highest honour in the architectural profession. Grafton Architects were also laureates of the Royal Gold Medal in 2020, the Royal Institute of British Architects’ highest honour. Grafton Architects received the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland (RIAI) Gandon Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Architecture in 2020, as well as the RIAI Gold Medal for Bocconi University in Milan in 2019. The project for UTEC in Lima received the inaugural RIBA International Prize in 2016. In 2008, the project for Bocconi University was awarded the inaugural World Building of the Year award at the World Architecture Festival. Grafton Architects was also awarded the Silver Lion at the Venice Biennale 2012 entitled Common Ground for their exhibition “Architecture as New Geography”.

Farrell and McNamara were selected as curators for the Venice Biennale 2018, the most significant architecture festival in the world. They chose the theme of FREESPACE, a theme that evokes a generosity of spirit and the free gifts that architecture can offer. Farrell and McNamara have received many accolades, including the Thomas Jefferson Medal in Architecture from the University of Virginia and the Ulysses Medal from University College Dublin. In April 2022, it was announced that Kingston University London – Town House won the EU Prize for Contemporary Architecture, the Mies Van der Rohe Award 2022.

Shelley McNamara was interviewed by Marc-Christoph Wagner in July 2023. The interview took place in connection with the World Congress of Architects, UIA 2023, in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Camera: David Schweiger
Edited by: Jarl Therkelsen Kaldan
Produced by: Marc-Christoph Wagner
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2023

Louisiana Channel is supported by Den A.P. Møllerske Støttefond, Ny Carlsbergfondet and C.L. Davids Fond og Samling. This film is supported by Dreyersfond and Fritz Hansen.